detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Friday, June 22, 2001

: . Edward Said, the critic of Orientalism, Founding Father of Post-Colonial Theory, and advocate for Palestinian rights, was the featured author in last weekend’s Booknotes on C-Span. As always, Said was passionate, engaging, erudite. Ten years after being diagnosed with chronic leukemia he appears a little gaunt and a little haggard but still strikingly handsome (and impeccably dressed)--not the look of a 'Professor of Terror' but of a battered Public Intellectual living in gilded exile. Brian Lamb, the host of Booknotes and the founder of C-Span stands out among other highbrow talk show hosts since he always makes a point of actually reading the books under discussion (to the astonishment of many authors). Said was supposed to talk about his latest book Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, but as expected his conversation with Lamb focused mainly on his illness and the current crisis in the Middle East.
Here, in an interview with the journalist Ari Shavit from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Said fields probing questions on among other things his dream of a ‘binational’ and secular Israel, his definition of ‘exile,’ and his ‘narrative’ of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Said also puts to rest all the sensationalist speculations regarding his motives for throwing a stone at an Israeli Army post near the Lebanese border. An excerpt:
...In Latin, invencio is to find again. It was used in classical rhetoric to describe a process by which you find past experiences and rearrange them to give them eloquence and novelty. It's not creating form nothing, it's reordering. In that sense I invented myself.
First, under the influence of (the Italian historian) Vico, I saw that people make their own history. That history is not like nature. It's a human product. And I saw that we can make our own beginnings. That they are not given, they are acts of will.
But in recent years, when I was facing terminal illness - with a tremendous amount of uncertainty - I discovered that I wasn't afraid of death. Not even of the suffering associated with the terminal phases of the disease. But I was afraid of not being able to recapture and to restate and to reinterpret those aspects of my life that I thought had some value.
It was then, while looking back, that I realized that the world I grew up in, the world of my parents, of Cairo and Beirut and pre 1948 Talbieh, was a made up world. It wasn't a real world. It didn't have the kind of objective solidity that I wanted it to have. For many years, I mourned the loss of this world. I truly mourned it. But now I have discovered the possibility of reinterpreting it. And I realized that it's true not only for me, but for most of us: we move through life shedding the past - the forgotten, the lost. I understood that my role was to tell and retell a story of loss where the notion of repatriation, of a return to a home, is basically impossible.
...[Theodore] Adorno says that in the twentieth century the idea of home has been superseded. I suppose part of my critique of Zionism is that it attaches too much importance to home. Saying, we need a home. And we'll do anything to get a home, even if it means making others homeless. Why do you think I'm so interested in the binational state? Because I want a rich fabric of some sort, which no one can fully comprehend, and no one can fully own. I never understood the idea of this is my place, and you are out. I do not appreciate going back to the origin, to the pure. I believe the major political and intellectual disasters were caused by reductive movements that tried to simplify and purify. That said, we have to plant tents or kibbutz or army and start from scratch.

You can read more Said articles and interviews here.

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